Joe Clark at Memories Group (Oct19)

Linlithgow Rugby Club Memories Group

Guest Speaker – Joe Clark

Report by our Roving Correspondent Hamish McIntyre

Gerry Keating opened the meeting by introducing Joe, and told us that prior to the meeting he had contacted Howard Haslett to get some info on Joe. Howard sent a photograph of a game between Heriot’s and Watsonians with Howard Haslett as referee, Bill McLaren in the commentary box with Nigel Starmer Smith, and a young Joe in the Heriot’s pack.

Joe Clark addressing the Memories Group at Linlithgow Rugby Club

Joe played for Heriots FP from 1967 to 1982 and was club captain from 1971 to 1972, and also played for Edinburgh District along side Jock Steven, our own Duncan Steven’s brother. He is also a committee member of EROS – Edinburgh Rugby Oldies Society. In his professional life Joe was a primary school headmaster at Fettes and Loretto, and he is well known as an after dinner speaker.

Joe’s plan for speaking at Linlithgow included copious notes and a mini rugby quiz, together with a hoard of sporting memorabilia which were all in a bag he forgot to bring! 

He thought this forgetfulness was rather appropriate for a meeting of a memories gathering, although he promised to mail them to Gerry to be passed around the members.

Joe’s first name is actually David, but he was given the name “Joe” after a Hibs player he grteatly admired called Joe Baker, by some friends of his of his older brother who said ‘we will just call you Joe’ and the name has stayed with him all his life!

He started off his sporting career playing football – he is a lifelong Hibs supporter – and played football at Lomond Park in the late 50’s. Joe Baker was an interesting character in a legendary Hibs team, where he scored 159 goals in three and a half seasons. In a memorable cup game against Peebles Rovers Joe scored nine goals, which would seem to be a record, but it was surpassed by his brother Gerry who scored ten goals for St Mirren against Glasgow University.

Baker went on to play in Turiin – Denis Law was also in the team – but the game in Italy was very defensive and he did not have the same goal harvest he had enjoyed in Scotland. In fact he scored very few goals in Italy, and then he was transferred to Arsenal where he scored 100 goals in three seasons, before going on to Nottingham Forrest.

Joe Baker was born in England but was brought up in Scotland and played for Scotland in a schoolboy international match at Goodison Park in 1956 before a crowd of 33,000 fans. He went on to play several times for England and was in Alf Ramsay’s initial squad for the World Cup in 1966, but he did not make it into the final squad. His last cap for England was in January 1966 – but that is enough of Joe Baker.

Joe Clark attended a rugby playing school, in those days it was hand me down boots and leather studs with nails in them. He played for Scottish Schools in 1967 at number 7 against England at Murrayfield. there were some well known names playing in the England team – his opposite number Tony Neary, with the half backs Jacko Page and Roger Shackleton. Substitutes were not allowed in those days, and it was common practice if a back was injured for a back row player to take his place. In the England match, when the right winger was injured Joe was moved to the right wing and was up against Keith Fielding, and when another player was injured he was moved again to the left wing, where he was against Mike Novak. Both of these players went on to play for England, along with Tony Neary and two other England schoolboys that day.

Playing against 5 future England senior caps that day made it all the more impressive that Scotland managed to murder them 3-3! David Bell was the only member of the Scottish team that day to go on to win a senior cap for Scotland.

When he left school, Joe got into the FP team, and made it into the Edinburgh District side where he played with Jock Steven and John Douglas of Edinburgh Wanderers. He later met John Douglas at an EROS lunch – John had played for the Lions in South Africa at number 8 and lock, under the captaincy of Arthur Smith. John later went to South Africa on holiday and in a rugby club he visited he got into conversation with Shalke Burger, a large 6’5” back row forward who was in the then current South African team. John mentioned that he had toured South Africa with the British Lions etc, and the longer the conversation went on he became more concerned that he would be asked what position he had played, and he made up his mind that if he was asked he would say ‘scrum half’. They make them big now don’t they!

When he was captain in 1972 Joe would train with Edinburgh on a Sunday, pick the Heriot’s team with the committee on a Monday night, train Tuesday, train or play wth Edinburgh on Wednesday, train Thursday, Friday off, and play on Saturday. Being captain of the club was a full time job!

After attending Stirling University, Joe wanted to stay in Edinburgh and play rugby for Heriots FP and he decided to go to Moray House to train to be a teacher, which allowed him to fulfil both of these wishes. At that time all rugby matches were hard fought –  going down to the Borders – great battles at Netherdale against Gala, who always played in a most robust manner. Indeed one of their players, whom you may not have heard of unless you read the police reports, was Johnny Brown – the most ‘robust’ player Joe ever played against.

Today you would not get away with that sort of ‘robust’ play, as there are assistant referees, and cameras to record every movement on the pitch. In many ways the game is much cleaner, the guys are fitter, stronger and more skilful than Joe’s contemporaries ever were.

In his year as captain, Heriots went down to play Cardiff, and beat them 9 – 8 on the back pitch at the Arms Park. Players today would not believe that fifteen guys who went to school together could go down to Cardiff – one of the top teams in Wales – and beat them. In the 50’s and 60’s you went to school and played for the school team, or you lived in a village and played for the village team. The Borders were the same, if you went to Hawick High School you played for Hawick, unless of course you were Gala who had players from Glenalmond, Inverness Academy, and Marr College!

Joe played for the championship winning team in 1978, and at that time his focus on the game was beginning to wane – the task of bringing up three children also played its part. After he had played what was to be his last game for the first XV in 1982, a group of senior players wanted to have one last fling at playing rugby and organised a tour to to that hot bed of rugby – California. A group of twenty five went to California, and on the plane Joe had bought a bottle of duty free Glenlivet and proceeded to consume at least half. He spent the rest of the flight in the toilet and had to be taken off the plane on a wheel chair while nodding poilitely to the security staff at San Francisco airport! This however paled into insignificance on the return journey, as when he arrived in a mini bus at Los Angeles airport, he discovered that his little bag was missing – it contained his ticket, passport and camera!

After some serious dashing around, the bag could not be found, and it looked like Joe would be left behind at the airport, while 24 other guys headed back to Edinburgh. After an hour when Joe had not got past the desk, the other players said ‘don’t worry Joe, if you can’t go the we are not going’. When the flight was called 24 other guys except one dashed for the plane – Alan West stayed behind and and then managed to persuade the staff on the desk that Joe’s passport and ticket were in the club’s luggage in the hold – he was told ‘ok off you go’. He got on the plane to cheers from his team mates – something you would not get away with today – he was then allowed on the plane to Edinburgh – no ticket, no passport! Today there is probably some Mexican running around with Joe’s passport. It was very fortunate that he was allowed on the plane because by then he was the headmaster of Fettes Junior School, and was rerquired to be there the next day – otherwise there may have been serious repercussions.

Joe then spoke about his teaching career, which was completely different from what it is today, and the pupils are completely different. Pupils who go to private schools are not all posh, and although they require to have some money, there were children from a fairground in Fife, shopkeeper families from Ullapool, and farmers who had tough lives on the farm sent their children to the school. They had local children at the school and also families from far and wide. There was a boy from Nigeria called Oladie Shonyen and they called him ‘Laddie’, his sister was called Titilola and they called her ‘Lola’! 

At the beginning of term two older sisters who were going to another school, came to drop off Laddie and Lola, and they said ‘our fees are in that case over there’ – this was a suitcase full of used banknotes, and the purser was not too happy at having to count out all this cash. In the 1980’s when Russian pupils started caming to the school, there were also suitcases with used banknotes! Some people were asking ‘where does this money come from’ and ‘we should not be taking this money’. There were also locals who paid in used banknotes and we did not ask where their money came from.

Joe was headmaster of the junior school at Loretto from 1979 to 1999, twenty years living above the shop which was a tremendous privilege. However when he got to the age of fifty he decided to call it a day and went off to work for an organisation called the Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS) which provides training for teachers in the independent schools.

After coffee and cakes provided by the ladies, Joe hosted a question and answer session which ranged from the difficulties clubs have in recruiting players to the impact of the Super Six. Gerry closed the meeting by thanking Joe for a very informative and entertaining talk.